The only Docker CE setup guide you will ever need

Kubernetes clusters are an awesome piece of technology, if an highly automated and dynamic environment for tens or hundrets of applications is required.

But Kubernetes brings also huge complexity which is not always necessary. Not every project scales to the size of Netflix or Google, so an good old Docker CE can also be an option.

This guide is a collection of custom configurations to improve the security, stability and isolation of Docker CE servers and it’s containers.


  • This is not a beginner guide
  • All operating system settings are based on Debian Bookworm
  • Single Docker CE servers, no Docker Swarm
  • Some parts of this document cover IPv6, most don’t

Operating System and Docker Daemon

Configuration for the Docker CE Daemon and the underlying operating system.

Installing Docker CE Daemon

Debian brings it’s own packages for Docker CE, but it is recommended to use the official package sources from Docker.

When Apt is done, docker ps should output an empty container list.

Docker API access

The Docker CE Engine is controlled with an HTTP RESTful API accessible using the Unix Socket /var/run/docker.sock. Whoever has access to that socket can run any action/query on the Docker CE Engine.


curl --unix-socket /var/run/docker.sock http://localhost/images/json | jq

(Shorted) Output:

    "Created": 1699617762,
    "Id": "sha256:3f32ac3a3d6f2c6778eb8ddb5924264e89c3673175e057caab233961b6eb3140",
    "RepoDigests": [ "homeassistant/home-assistant@sha256:400f20c77f52ac31334c1e73a2f19b2d6e5820757d1d476f01960b1efed31949" ],
    "RepoTags": [ "homeassistant/home-assistant:latest" ],
    "Size": 1903993749,

Per default root and all members of the Unix group docker can read/write to the socket.

Docker and privilege escalation

As mentioned in the last chapter, any Unix account can get access to Docker CE by being member of the group docker. But be aware, that all users which can create containers will have implicit root access to the whole server system.

There are alot examples how host access can be done via docker. As one example, a combination of a privileged container and chroot:

# mount the hosts root partition into the container
# use the hosts network scope
# --privileged allows kernel access
# chroot into the hosts root partition
# launch a interactive bash
docker run -it --rm -v /:/mnt/host --net=host --privileged debian:latest chroot /mnt/host /bin/bash -i

If this is no/low risk for you, access to Docker CE for a user can be granted like so:

gpasswd -a christian docker

Docker CLI Plugins

The docker CLI command supports plugins, the most used one should be docker compose, which is also available as dedicated CLI command.

On debian it can be installed like so:

apt install docker-compose-plugin docker-buildx-plugin

In a Dockerfile it can be installed like so:

FROM docker:latest
COPY --from=docker/buildx-bin:latest /buildx /usr/libexec/docker/cli-plugins/docker-buildx
COPY --from=docker/compose-bin:latest /docker-compose /usr/libexec/docker/cli-plugins/docker-compose

The plugins can be used like so:

docker compose --help
docker buildx --help

Dedicated Disk for Dockers Data Directory

To have better control of the disk space consumtion, it makes sense to move the Docker CE data directory to a dedicated partition. If the partition has a XFS filesystem, it’s even possible to use disk quotas in docker volumes and containers.

Install dependencies, format partition, move data:

# preparations
apt install xfsprogs
systemctl stop docker

# format and mount partition
mkfs.xfs /dev/sda2
mkdir /mnt/dockerdata
echo "/dev/disk/by-id/scsi-0QEMU_QEMU_HARDDISK_drive-scsi0-part2 /mnt/dockerdata xfs discard,nofail,pquota,defaults 0 0" >> /etc/fstab
mount /mnt/dockerdata

# check if partition is mounted
mount | grep dockerdata

# move data
mv /var/lib/docker /mnt/dockerdata/docker

Add data-root setting in /etc/docker/daemon.json:

    "data-root": "/mnt/dockerdata/docker"

Start docker again and verify if it has started correctly:

systemctl start docker
systemctl status docker
docker info | grep "Docker Root Dir:"
docker ps -a

Limit Log Filesize

Depending of the container, a log file can grow very fast. To prevent running out of disk space, the size and number of log files per container should be limited.

Add log driver options to /etc/docker/daemon.json:

    "log-driver": "json-file",
    "log-opts": {
        "max-size": "32m",
        "max-file": "5"

Restart Docker CE:

systemctl restart docker

Log Drivers

There are also alternative log drivers available in Docker CE. A good option is for example, to use the journald driver to log into systemd journald.

Logs can be accessed then like so:

journalctl CONTAINER_NAME=webserver

This also allows it to forward docker logs including all system log messages to applications like Graylog via filebeat.


All Log Drivers
Journald log driver documentation
Filebeat Documentation

Container Quotas

All containers should have quotas set to prevent, that a faulty process is affecting other containers or even let the whole server system crash.

CPU Quotas

CPU Quotas are supported out of the box.

See Run containers for examples.

Memory + Swap Quotas

Memory quotas are supported per default, for swap quotas a kernel parameter needs to be set:

In /etc/default/grub:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet cgroup_enable=memory swapaccount=1"

Update bootloader and reboot:


See Run containers for examples.

Disk Quotas

Disk quotas are supported, if the Dedicated Disk for Dockers Data Directory chapter is applied correctly.

See Run containers for examples.


Connecting Docker Containers to each other and to the outside world.

Network Address Pools

Per default Docker CE is using the subnet to assign IP addresses to containers and Docker networks. Sometimes, this network is already in use by other services. This can result in the unavailability of these services from the Docker server system and it’s containers.

Add the default-address-pools option to /etc/docker/daemon.json:

    "default-address-pools": [
        { "base": "", "size": 24 }

Now Docker CE will create subnets with size size /24 from for new Docker networks.

Local Bridge Networks

The default way to connect docker containers with each other are bridge networks. When connected to a network, the container can communicate with each other with it’s container names.

docker network create -o somenetwork
docker run -d --name backend --network somenetwork debian:latest sleep infinity
docker run -d --rm --name frontend --network somenetwork debian:latest \
     /bin/bash -c "apt update && apt install --yes iputils-ping && ping backend"

The option -o allows it to set the name of the Linux network interface. Which can be helpful to keep the overview. The name has a maximum length of 15 characters.

IPv6 ULA and Bridge Networks

Docker CE is able to use IPv6 ULA (Unique Local Address) ranges and will create SNAT rules for the outgoing communication. This is really helpful, if the server only has a single IPv4 Address. IPv4 and IPv6 can be used and configured exactly identical.

    "ipv6": true,
    "experimental": true,
    "ip6tables": true,
    "fixed-cidr-v6": "fd00::/49",
    "default-address-pools": [
        { "base": "fd00:0:0:8000::/49", "size": 64 },
        { "base": "", "size": 24 }

The IPv6 ranges are not routed and can be used as-is on multiple servers.

docker network create --ipv6 -o somenetwork
docker run -d --name backend --network somenetwork debian:latest \
     /bin/bash -c "apt update && apt install --yes iputils-ping && ping6"

Incoming traffic should be handled with normal port publishings through a reverse proxy like NGINX or Traefik.

Routed Bridge Networks

It is also possible to assign real LAN IP addresses directly to containers with the macvlan network driver.

The following network is attached to the server network interface eth0, which provides the LAN subnet

Containers connected to the network will have IP addresses from the range assigned. Services inside of this containers, are directly accessible from the server network without any port publishings (-p).

docker network create -d macvlan \
  --subnet= \
  --ip-range= \
  --gateway= \
  -o parent=ens18 publicservices

Set outgoing IP Address by Docker Network

For outgoing communication, all containers in a bridge driver network using the primary IP address of the server system. This can be a problem, if every application on the docker host should have invidual firewall rules to allow communication with other servers and services.

An individual outgoing IP address can be defined, by managing the NAT rules ourselves.

Create a Docker network with disabled masquerading:

docker network create -d bridge \
    -o \
    -o \

Then the following nftables rule needs to be applied:

table ip docker_network_appnetwork
delete table ip docker_network_appnetwork

table ip docker_network_appnetwork {
    chain postrouting {
        type nat hook postrouting priority srcnat; policy accept;
        ip saddr oifname != "appnetwork" snat to
} is the subnet which was assigned to the Docker network, appnetwork the interface name and the IP address used for the outgoing connection.

On macvlan networks, it is alot easier, as a NAT rule is not necessary:

docker network create -d macvlan \
    --subnet= \
    --ip-range= \
    --gateway= \
    -o parent=ens18 \
    -o \
    -o \

Internal Transit Docker Networks

When two applications which both using custom outgoint IP addresses are required to be connected to each other, a transit network must be used. Otherwise one of the applications will use the outgoing IP address of the other application, as it is not possible to control the routes inside of the containers.

docker network create -d bridge --internal transitnetwork

The --internal option denies outgoing communication with that network. Only containers can communicate with each other, but there is no LAN or internet access possible.

NAT and high traffic applications

When an application is processing thousands of connections per second, the default NATing of Docker can become the bottleneck. Multiple connection trying to use the same port number for the NATing, which causes retries. Because of that the initial connect can take multiple seconds.

The problem is described here and here more detailed.

Besides using macvlan networks, another option is to use the server host network stack:

# create a network with a known IP Subnet
docker network create --driver=bridge --subnet= containers0

# connect the existing application container with the network
# and assign a static IP address
docker network connect --ip containers0 dingetun
docker network connect --ip containers0 myip

# create the new webserver container
docker run --name webserver -d \
    --add-host dingetun: \
    --add-host myip: \
    --network host \

In this example the webserver container is directly attached to the network stack of the server host. Port 80/tcp and 443/tcp are directly bound to the public IP of the server system.

Because of that, the container is unable to use Docker networks and the Docker DNS. This needs to workarounded with assigning static IP addresses to all other containers and also add static /etc/hosts entries to the webserver container.

With this, NAT is completly avoided, but other containers can still accessed by it’s name.

Build Containers

Using the caching mechanics of Docker builds more effective.

Cache packages

Docker checks for changes on all used files before (re)building an image layer. If there are no changes, the layer from the previous build is used instead of building a new one.

This can be used to cache a npm install or a nuget restore run, even if the code of the app itself was changed. Just copy the package.json and package-lock.json first into the image, run the npm install and copy the rest of the application afterwards.

As long as this two files have no changes, this build step is cached and will safe multiple minutes in future CI Pipeline runs.

FROM node:latest as packages
COPY package.json package.json
COPY package-lock.json package-lock.json
RUN npm install

FROM packages as app
COPY . .
RUN npm run-script build

BuildX and inline caches

The “new” docker buildx includes cache metadata into the container image, which allows it to use an previous image as a cache source. This makes the cache available even when two builds are done on different servers.

docker buildx build \
    --cache-from "" \
    --cache-to type=inline \
    -t "" .

Also this enables the use of caching in disposable build environments like GitLab runners with Docker-in-Docker.

Labels in images

Labels can be defined at build time and at runtime. Adding informations like build timestamp, version, maintainer or application name helps to keep an overview about the applications which are running on the Docker system.

The Open Containers Initiative has defined a standard to add metadata to a container image at build time. The format description can be found here.

Dockerfile labels:

LABEL org.opencontainers.image.created=$DATE
LABEL org.opencontainers.image.version=1.0.0
LABEL org.opencontainers.image.authors=Christian
LABEL org.opencontainers.image.url=

Build command:

docker buildx build \
    --label "org.opencontainers.image.created=$(date --iso-8601=seconds)" \
    --label "org.opencontainers.image.version=1.0.0" \
    --label "org.opencontainers.image.authors=Christian" \
    --label "org.opencontainers.image.url=" \
    -t "" .

Run Containers

Container Quotas

The following example demonstrates all quota options:

docker volume create -o size=1G persistent-volume
docker run -d --name cpu-demo \
    --cpus 1.5 \
    --memory 2GB \
    --memory-swap 3GB \
    --storage-opt size=1G \
    -v persistent-volume:/mnt/data \
  • Assign 1.5 CPUs
  • Assign 2GB of memory
  • Assign 1GB of swap
  • Assign 1GB of temporary disk space
  • Mount a volume with 1GB of persistent storage at /mnt/data

Name + Hostname

In addition to the container name, the container hostname should also be set as the hostname will appear in log files.

docker run -d \
    --name webserver \
    --hostname webserver \
    -p 80:80 \

Labels on containers

Labels can also be set when creating containers. For example to group containers by project or adding a responsible person to the container. Also projects like Traefik, Watchtower or Ofelia using labels for configuration and container discovery.

docker run -d \
    --name webserver \
    --label "applicationowner=John Doe" \
    --label "project=some-multi-container-project" \
    -p 80:80 \

This guide is tagged with debian, docker, guides, network and was written on 16. December 2023.


  • 2023-12-17: Added build caching chapter
  • 2023-12-16: Published BG by Carl Lender (CC BY 2.0) Imprint & Privacy
9d41264a 2023-12-28 19:26
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